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Ask anyone in the TV industry what Stephen Mulhern is really like and they’ll tell you that what you see on screen is exactly what you’ll get off-screen. OK, so he may not wear the flamboyant outfits that Ant and Dec dress him up in on Saturday Night Takeaway, but he’s friendly, funny and, most importantly, open and genuine.
“If this all stopped tomorrow, would I be gutted? Yes, but would I say I can’t do anything else? No. I’d go back to what I did before,” Stephen tells us via Zoom. He’s chatting to us from the back of a car – a rare quiet moment in a packed schedule that includes Catchphrase and In For A Penny. “The shows I do are a dream to do and I know I’m very lucky to be able to do them,” he adds.
The 44-year-old has just finished filming a second series of Rolling In It, the ITV gameshow where famous faces team up with members of the public as they attempt to win big on a huge arcade game. The show, which returns this week, was inspired by an idea of Simon Cowell ’s, Stephen’s former Britain’s Got Talent boss. And Stephen tells us that as well as a colleague, he now counts Simon as a friend.
Stephen Mulhern says he puts the 'and' in Ant and Dec
But he’s far from being the only famous name in Stephen’s phone book. Here, the magician and former Butlin’s Redcoat spills the beans on his other friendships, why he lives a normal life away from our screens, and how he’s now available for hire after officiating at Emma and Matt Willis’ wedding vows renewal.
Hi, Stephen. You can tell you love hosting Rolling In It…
I honestly believe it’s the best gameshow on telly. It delivers everything – highs, lows, comedy, anxiety. It’s just has everything!
Which famous faces are you still trying to get?
I’d love Lorraine Kelly to do the show, and I want a Gogglebox special. I’d also love to see Simon Cowell playing it. The game actually initiated from an idea of Simon’s because he used to love the arcade game. So we could do a BGT judge special with Simon, David [Walliams] and Alesha [Dixon] or Amanda [Holden].
Stephen presents his own game show Rolling In It
You know why that would be amazing? It’s the only game that Simon wouldn’t be able to control. He wouldn’t like it, but the viewers and I would love it!
Do you count Simon as a friend?
He emails me and even when I don’t expect it, I get a response from him. So I’d hope so. But if I was on a sinking ship, and it was only me and Sinitta, I don’t know who he would save first. That’s probably the only time in my life that I’d start to panic. I might have to grab Sinitta’s leaves to float…
What are your funniest memories with him?
The last time I did the Royal Variety Performance show was at the Palladium. It’s so small backstage that everyone has to share dressing rooms. You had Shirley Bassey sharing with Bette Midler, Michael McIntyre and One Direction. As I arrived, it said on the door: ‘Stephen Mulhern and Simon Cowell’. I thought, ‘Oh God!’ The reason is it’s not just Simon that arrives – it’s Simon and the entourage. He arrived with his sunglasses on, followed by his make-up artist, PA and his partner. We were like sardines, it was the most uncomfortable moment of my life.
Stephen now counts Simon Cowell as a friend
Then, to make matters worse, the opening to my act was the joke, ‘Oh look, there’s lots of people here that I recognise. Hello Sue, how do you do? Hello Di, how’s your eye? Hello Annie… you alright!’ Now, we’re all adults, but when I got back to the dressing room, Simon said, ‘Tell the joke. The Annie joke. Tell it again.’ I had to explain the joke to Simon and his girlfriend. I hope that moment never happens again. I wanted the ground to swallow me up.
There were reports that Simon is planning a Vegas residency for BGT acts. Would you be up for performing some magic?
Yes! I’m hoping that while we’re on this Zoom call, he’s ringing me and trying to get through to my phone – because if he’s not, then why not?! [Laughs] In fact, I’m absolutely going to send an email after this. I’m going to ask and find out.
And speaking of your famous mates, how does it feel to be the third person in Ant and Dec’s TV marriage?
Weirdly, somebody said to me the other day, ‘You’re like the “and” in Ant and Dec.’ That’s quite funny to hear. But also my dad said, ‘You’re the Des O’Connor’ because when Morecambe and Wise were at the height of their fame, Des was the fall guy. It was the same sort of comedy where they’d say to Des, “You’re going to do this today…”
Is that how you end up wearing all those ridiculous costumes on Saturday Night Takeaway?
Stephen reckons he's the fall guy to Ant and Dec
Yeah! I don’t know what’s going to happen next year because those gold pants caused a stir. We’ve almost set the bar too high. Where do you go next? Maybe I’ll be in some sort of Borat leotard. A Mulhern-kini. Actually, let’s not give them any ideas!
Do you get to hang out with Ant and Dec when you’re not working together?
Yes. Funnily enough, I was at a little market the other Saturday and, as I was walking through it, Dec was there. We were swapping stories on what we’d bought. The only thing we’d got that was similar were some little ginger shots where we were trying to be healthy! A year in lockdown and we’re still trying to drink ginger shots.
Did lockdown change you in any way?
There are certain things that I wish I had done. I wish I’d learnt a new skill, like the guitar, or another language. But the bonus that I took from lockdown was that I realised I needed to see more of my family, without fail. We spent half the year with my mum trying to use FaceTime, which I renamed ChinTime as it’s all that I ever saw of her [Laughs].
So are you very close with your family?
Stephen with his mum and dad, Maureen and Christopher
(Image: Getty Images)
Yeah – my mum reminds me, if not every day, every other day, how lucky we are. All my mum and dad want to do is go to a carvery. That’s their treat of the week. I was with them yesterday and I said, ‘What do you fancy doing?’ And my mum said, ‘Shall we go for a carvery?’ And her face lights up. I don’t go to the showbiz parties but I do enjoy life.
Have you been able to treat your family because of your TV job, though?
The best treat we did – which they will never stop talking about – is when I was on the Royal Variety show. I surprised them with a
stay at the Ritz Hotel. We had my mum, dad, sister, aunts and my uncle. It was amazing.
What’s left on your career bucket list now?
I want to do my own stage show, and in terms of television, I would love my own big entertainment show. I’m in talks with different companies trying to come up with an idea – but a Michael McIntyre-esque, Saturday Night Takeaway-esque show with a bit of magic. Something you can’t see on other shows. If that happens, that will be the bucket list all ticked off.
Stephen has never been asked to do a reality show
We never see you doing any entertainment reality shows. Do you not get asked?
I haven’t been asked to do any of them – I don’t know if they think I just wouldn’t do them. But I’d maybe think about doing
The Masked Singer because that could be good.
Have you got a good enough voice to impress the judges?
Well, judging by Lenny Henry, I’d win the show!
Will Ant and Dec ever get you into the jungle for I’m A Celeb?
That’s the problem – I wouldn’t know whether viewers were voting for me, or if Ant and Dec were winding me up. It would be like, ‘Oh, who’s eating the kangaroo testicles today? I wonder…’ If I did it, I’d eat as much food as I could before going in!
Finally, is it true that you officiated for the ceremony at Emma and Matt Willis’ vow renewal?
Not only did I do that, but Emma said it was as good as her getting married. Honestly, it was like the TV show, Comedy Central Roast. Matt got it with both barrels! It took a long time to write it but it was funny.
So you’ll be available if Simon ever ties the knot?
Yeah, and I’ll start with that Royal Variety opening joke again. Simon will love that!